The much-hyped (thanks to the presence of ex-Doctor Matt Smith) new musical American Psycho at the Almeida was, to be honest, a bit of a letdown. I’m a big fan of quirky musicals and, although I didn’t know much about the book or the film I thought I’d give it a go. It turned out to be annoyingly inconsistent – with some intriguing parts, but leaving me a bit unsatisfied. Although not the fault of the musical, I also wasn’t impressed by the reveal about Patrick Bateman’s mental state at the end of the show, which somehow rendered the whole thing a bit pointless for me.
Matt Smith was ok as Patrick, a hard part to play, with a fine line between capturing the emotionless monster with a charming exterior and creating a character that people are bothered about watching. But I didn’t find him particularly engaging or scary and was left pretty unmoved by his serial murdering. In fact at times I almost forgot that he was a serial killer, a fact that for much of the musical seemed pretty inconsequential to the plot. As someone with a serious squeamishness about even the least gratuitous violence, I was at more than one point watching through half-closed eyes as Patrick prepared to kill his next victim. I needn’t have worried – the violence was so symbolic that even I wasn’t bothered by it.
Among the rest of the cast, Cassandra Compton stood out as Patrick’s secretary Jean. There’s a rare touching scene as Jean prepares to meet with Patrick, where I for the first time felt that he harboured any humanity beneath his blank exterior. I found the whole musical a bit soulless – which I guess is an occupational hazard when creating a musical based on a book that satirises the empty, vacuous lifestyles of American yuppies. In general it proved hard to care about the majority of the characters.
At points, as a scene became increasingly serious I would find it increasingly comical – I’m pretty sure this wasn’t intentional. There were some purposefully amusing moments but from the laughs these seemed to appeal largely to the posher elements of the audience.
Again I found the original score patchy – the opening number Clean is a bit grating and You Are What You Wear dragged. I was however a fan of Cards, and the show’s version of In The Air Tonight. The choreography was strong and I particularly liked the Christmas party tableaux created by various members of the cast.
Bret Easton Ellis says in the programme – ‘I think Patrick Batemans have existed throughout history’. This is probably true, and excessive consumerism has always been a characteristic of the social elite. How else to validate your social worth than with an elaborate sugar sculpture at your feast or a conspicuous excess of candles to light your ballroom?
Perhaps because the elite lifestyle is now so commonplace in everyday life – from television and magazines to the street full of designer stores that I walked down to reach the Almeida itself – I found the satirizing of the yuppie lifestyle in American Psycho a bit clunky. As chef Francis Derby points out in the programme, while in the eighties the fine dining of the characters may have seemed elite, ‘now everyone eats like that’. And it doesn’t seem at all unusual that a man would top up his tan. This consumer culture is ingrained in public consciousness, and large swathes of the population aspire to knock-off versions of elite cuisine and fashion. Elite cuisine and fashion that, despite increasing social inequality, is probably accessible to a wider section of the population than ever before.
In satirizing the yuppie lifestyle American Psycho doesn’t seem to say anything new, but merely points out some fairly obvious tenets about the negative effects of vacuous consumerism and social conformity. And yet, despite my reservations, the show did receive an enthusiastic standing ovation – so maybe I’m missing something. Or perhaps if you’re in Doctor Who you get a standing ovation whatever you do.